This year started off quite frantic, with our house move and all that comes with it. However, it really spurred me on to try and find ways of improving how we eat during the week. What I really should say is, how I treat weeknight meals.
I must admit that I am solely to blame for the problem I find myself faced with. My husband would be more than happy with a simple omelet or cheese with pesto on toast for dinner. Every night. Each and every night. Toast especially. Not me. The mere idea of this is torturous. Even eating the same meal two days in a row is an issue for me, most of the time.
As you can imagine, cooking for my children is one of the most trialling aspects of my relationship with food. Like most parents I know, I have struggled. It hasn’t been without gruelling effort on my part. In fact, a Facebook post captured how I felt about this stage of child rearing very succinctly. It said: Cooking for Children is like spending 8 hours cooking Julia Child’s Beef Bourgeon, throwing it at the wall, cleaning it up and starting all over again. I couldn’t agree more. I have tackled countless Anabel Karmel recipes which I end up eating – Happily I might add. (Why my children don’t eat them is beyond me.) In the end I resigned myself to buying some ‘brown’ food which lives in the freezer and gets pulled out and thrown in the oven. Yes, I am so beaten that I gave up on the organic, no sugar, no extra salt, nothing not homemade, etc. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it certainly took away some added stress. And we can all do away with a little stress, can’t we?
I know there are some of you out there who have succeeded with your mealtimes and I applaud you. Lucky you! If there is one thing parenting has taught me, no one is dealt the same kids as someone else. We are all scrambling to survive the first few years and some people have it harder than others, some easier. I was really lucky initially. They literally ate everything I gave them. All organic, all homemade and a variety of fruit and vegetables. Meat was actually a struggle, but we managed. Then, each one decided, for whatever reason, that they would no longer eat what I wanted them to.
One of the best bits of advice I got was to keep exposing them to new things. It was a paediatrician we were seeing for our first born and she asked me what I was feeding him. When I told her I had given up, she told me vehemently not to. I thought it was a done deal and resigned myself to the situation at hand. She suggested I keep going. So I do. Now, the rule in our house is: you have to try it. You don’t have to eat it if you don’t like it, but you have to try it. Each and every time.
You know what? It works. Not all the time. But we have our surprises. We have our battles too, but the surprises are nice. The surprises: my eldest now ordering vegetable curry over Chicken for his school lunch!?!? Really? Yes, really. He actually says ‘curry’ with enthusiasm. I never thought I would see the day.
My weeknight meals have been plagued with mild panic for years. I would diligently plan my week of exciting meals, usually with some new recipes I was desperate to try, and then plan my grocery list around this. I even have a special book for just this exercise. (Don’t laugh, it took me years to get to this stage, as I fought this on the ground of hindering my creative food needs. I relented when I was first on maternity leave and suddenly confined to a strict budget figure to squeeze out a week’s worth of meals for a family.) Somehow, the kids meals got lost in all of this. Meal prep for a lot of my meals, didn’t really work with the kids schedules. They needed to eat dinner much earlier than I ever seemed ready for, and before my husband came home – which was usually just before their bed time. I would be stuck staring into the cupboards wondering what I could whip up in half an hour or less to feed them, then wonder why they wouldn’t eat it.
It was a chance article I came across, which would change everything. I didn’t have to do anything radical with the new approach and actually, I was already doing some things right. I just needed to tweak my approach. This article from The Kitchn, identified what I was overlooking the entire time. Kids need consistency, where I (and most foodies I know) needed variety. The solution was simple. Keep your meal planning, but your days were now going to be allocated to a ‘theme’ meal. Meatless Mondays, for example. Each day of the week would have a theme which provided the consistency and then within that you could have your variety.
In our home, for example, on Sundays we have meatballs and roasted vegetables. The kids get to eat their dinner with a cocktail skewer and we all eat as a family together. Where I can have my creativity is with the type of meatballs and the vegetables. So one week we may have regular beef meatballs with roasted potato, carrots and beetroot. The following week I might change that up with turkey meatballs made with grated courgette and herbs, served with roasted potatoes, carrots and cauliflower. The kids consistently get a meal with balls of protein and some familiar roasted vegetables, some of them I know they will eat. Usually a dollop of tomato sauce will see them through the less enticing meatballs. Generally, Sunday is a winner.
We also have Meatless Mondays, Pasta Tuesdays, Fish Wednesdays, Noodle/Rice Thursdays, Pizza (or easy meal/slowcooker) Fridays, and Leftover (or soup/stew with bread) Saturdays.
It has been a life changer and I am sure we will continue to tweak it as we go on. But for the moment, I have been very happy to have some theme to follow. If anything, it has helped me select which of the hundreds of recipes I want to try next, for meal planning. I also feel good knowing that within each meal, I have planned something the kids will eat within it. There is something comforting in knowing they will at least eat the noodles, if not the chicken stir fry you made to go with it.
Other themes for consideration:
breakfast for dinner